Walker’s Point emerges as one of Milwaukee’s hottest neighborhoods

First thing’s first. The Milwaukee neighborhood located south and southwest of the Historic Third Ward is Walker’s Point, not the “Fifth Ward.” The area was once considered the city’s fifth ward, but the city today is divided up into aldermanic districts, not wards.

During the pre-Great Recession condo boom the term “Fifth Ward” was used by some developers to make the Walker’s Point neighborhood sound more attractive, and more like the Third Ward.

But the lack of gentrification is part of what has attracted artists, craftsmen and other residents and businesses to Walker’s Point, which also has far less regulation than the Third Ward does for new developments or other property alterations.

“The Third Ward is done,” said Ursula Twombly, principal of Continuum Architects + Planners and a board member of the Walker’s Point Association. “That’s the way I look at it. It’s finished. It’s pretty. Walker’s Point still has some grittiness to it.”

Global Water Center

Today, Walker’s Point is experiencing a renaissance with no need for a re-branding. The neighborhood’s proximity to downtown and the Third Ward, the low cost of real estate, the availability of numerous old buildings and vacant sites, combined with the gritty authenticity of this old industrial Milwaukee neighborhood, has made Walker’s Point a hot spot for development and the city’s newest cool neighborhood.

“You can see improvement everywhere you look,” Twombly said.

“It’s even surprised me, the rapid pace the neighborhood has transformed,” said Juli Kaufmann, president of Fix Development LLC, a Walker’s Point-based real estate development firm that emphasizes sustainability. Fix built the four-story, 30,000-square-foot Clock Shadow building, completed last year at 130 W. Bruce St. It is one of several buildings in the neighborhood that now feature environmentally-friendly “green” features.

408-38 W. Florida St.

“Walker’s Point has embraced sustainability,” Kaufmann said.

The neighborhood has also embraced a major influx of new restaurants and food and beverage production businesses in recent years.

Walker’s Point has become a major dining destination in Milwaukee and several restaurants and bars have opened there during the last three years including: Screaming Tuna, MyYoMy, C.1880, Zak’s Café, INdustri Café, The Noble, Braise, Blue Jacket, AP Bar and Kitchen, Black Sheep and Rumor.

88Nine RadioMilwaukee building

“I think (Walker’s Point) is really becoming the number one destination for the restaurant, bar and nightlife scene in Milwaukee,” said Tyler Hawley, a Walker’s Point resident and principal of real estate development firm HKS Holdings LLC.

And more restaurants are on the way to Walker’s Point. Chef Jonathan Manyo recently purchased a two-story building at 230 S. Second St., and plans to open a restaurant there. Karl Kopp, owner of the downtown restaurant Elsa’s on the Park and Kopp’s Frozen Custard in Greenfield, Brookfield and Glendale, plans to redevelop the 137-year-old J.L. Burnham Building at 100-106 E. Seeboth St. into a restaurant.

The food and beverage producers that have established operations in Walker’s Point include Clock Shadow Creamery, Purple Door Ice Cream, Indulgence Chocolatiers, Milwaukee Brewing Co., Anodyne Coffee Co. and Great Lakes Distillery Co. Another distillery, Central Standard Craft Distillery, is planned at 609 S. 2nd St. Purple Door Ice Cream plans to move from the Clock Shadow Building to a larger space at 205 S. 2nd St.

Many of the new businesses coming to Walker’s Point have set up shop along South 2nd Street. The street has been a magnet since it was rebuilt by the city in 2010 and narrowed from two lanes in each direction to a more pedestrian-oriented street with one vehicular lane and a bike lane in each direction and the addition of landscaping and new lights. The city originally planned to do a basic re-paving of the street, but businesses and residents in the neighborhood convinced city officials to convert South 2nd Street into a “complete street” that slowed traffic and better accommodated bicycles and pedestrians. Based on the proliferation of new businesses, particularly restaurants, on the street, the approach appears to be working.

The re-building of the street “was a pivotal moment,” for Walker’s Point, Kaufmann said. “These things don’t just happen by accident. It’s classic urban planning.”

Meanwhile, the recent opening of the Global Water Center and construction of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences could make Walker’s Point the epicenter of efforts to make Milwaukee the Silicon Valley of water technology companies. One developer described the Global Water Center as a “game-changer” for the city and the Walker’s Point neighborhood.

Located on the newly renamed Freshwater Way, the Global Water Center was created in a 107-year-old, 98,000-square-foot, seven-story building. The building is already more than 75 percent leased with tenants that include large established water technology companies, start-up water technology companies, university researchers, business development organizations and business service providers. The idea of the Global Water Center is to foster the development of water technology companies and to attract water technology companies to the region.

If the Global Water Center initiative is successful it could attract water technology companies to a water technology business park that is being developed on the 17-acre Reed Street Yards site just west of the Global Water Center, and to other buildings and sites in Walker’s Point.

“It’s kind of if you build it they will come type of thing,” said Hawley, whose firm was the developer for the Global Water Center.

Walker’s Point is also attracting more residents. The newest major residential development in the neighborhood is the redevelopment of the former JH Collectibles building at 710 S. 3rd St. into a 50-unit apartment building by HKS Holdings. The building, which opened in July, is already about 70 percent leased.

More residential developments are planned in the neighborhood. Earlier this year a joint venture of Milwaukee-based Dixon Development LLC and Madison-based Hovde Properties purchased a 106-year-old, seven-story warehouse at 408-38 W. Florida St. Dixon and Hovde are working on plans for a mixed-use redevelopment of the building with about 9,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor and about 100 market-rate apartments on the upper floors.

One of the most significant developments planned in Walker’s Point is a mixed-use project planned by Wauwatosa-based Wangard for a vacant, 8-acre site northeast of South First Street and East Greenfield Avenue. Preliminary plans for the project include 60 apartments, 60,000 square feet of office space and 60,000 square feet of retail space, which would include a grocery store, said Wangard chief executive officer Stewart Wangard.

Walker’s Point residents are eager to see a grocery store open in their neighborhood.

“We really need one,” Twombly said.

Other mixed use developments in Walker’s Point include the South Water Works project at the former Transpak Corp. complex at Pittsburgh Avenue and Barclay Street, which now has apartments, office space and Next Act Theater.

Radio station 88Nine RadioMilwaukee (88.9 FM) purchased the 12,500-square-foot building at 220 E. Pittsburgh Ave. in Walker’s Point. The radio station moved its operations there from 5225 W. Vliet St. and Stone Creek Coffee has opened a café in the building.

Despite the numerous new businesses that have moved into the neighborhood, Walker’s Point remains in transition and there are several vacant properties still available for new uses.

“It’s still underdeveloped compared to the Third Ward and other areas of the city,” Hawley said. “(Increasing) density is going to drive the progress of the neighborhood. We’re happy with the progress over the last couple of years.”

“It’s a very exciting time for Walker’s Point,” Twombly said.

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